The Logic of Illogic

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Derek Simon

December 12th, 2014

In his seminal work, “Picking Winners,” Andrew Beyer wrote about a chance encounter he had on a train ride from Boston to the now-defunct Narragansett Park, the track where Seabiscuit broke his maiden, in 1963.

“I could not have guessed, from his outward appearance, that the man sitting next to me would exert more of an influence on my mind than would any of my professors at Harvard. Wearing a rumpled suit and an ancient straw hat, he looked like a typical racetrack bum. But when I caught a glimpse of the Racing Form he was studying so intensely, I got a different impression of the man. The paper was completely covered with esoteric symbols and notations, utterly incomprehensible to me, that suggested the man was a very serious student of the game,” Beyer wrote.

The two spent the evening playing the races together and the man, who Beyer called Mr. D, introduced the soon-to-be author to a concept that has remained etched in my brain for over 40 years — no small feat when you consider that I routinely misplace my car keys.

Mr. D referred to it as the “logic of illogic.”

According to Beyer, Mr. D believed that all horses were “tools that were manipulated by their trainers. The trainers were ruthless, calculating, omnipotent. Their mission in life was to deceive the public, to orchestrate a horse’s form until they could cash a bet at the proper odds.”

Beyer explained that Mr. D’s cynical nature was the result of his life’s experiences.

“The government of his country was overthrown by a left-wing coup,” the handicapping author noted, and “his convictions about the treachery and duplicity of the Communists helped shape his philosophy of handicapping.”

Part of this philosophy was to question why a particular horse was in a particular race — and it is a question that I think every handicapper should attempt to answer. When a horse is entered in what seems to be a ridiculous spot, ask yourself why.

Granted, in some cases — and, apparently, Dr. Z didn’t consider this — the answer is obvious: The connections are incompetent and/or delusional. A great example of this is Ricks Natural Star, who became the most (in)famous underlay of all time when he went to post at 56-1 in the 1996 Breeders’ Cup Turf after three consecutive last-place finishes in bottom-level claiming events at Ruidoso Downs:

However, when the connections are not insane, the logic of illogic compels one to take a closer look… which is precisely what I did when I saw Three Timer entered in a $25,000 maiden claiming affair at one mile on the turf at Tampa Bay Downs on Dec. 10, 2014:

Of course, initially what struck me was what an odd spot this race appeared to be for a horse that was uncompetitive against cheaper at Suffolk Downs — and this seeming lack of logic is what made me do a little digging.

The first thing I found is that M. C. Reardon, while struggling this year, is actually a decent trainer, statistically-speaking. In fact, from 2008 to 2013, Reardon maintained a very respectable 16 percent winning average.

What’s more, the Boston-based conditioner is outstanding with shippers, recording a 19 percent strike rate and whopping 97 percent ROI from 2008-2013.

Then, I looked at Three Timer’s breeding — and there was more good news. Her sire, Hat Trick, who stands in Japan, is outstanding with routers and, specifically, turf routers.

Notice that, in sprints, Hat Trick’s progeny have average a 63.8 Brisnet speed figure; in routes, that figure improves to 73.8; and, in turf routes, it jumps to 76.0.

This means that, on breeding alone, we might reasonably expect Three Timer to improve her Brisnet speed figures, which have been consistently in the high 40s, by about 12 points.

Given all these positive factors — and the logic of illogic — I used Three Time in a pick-3 with another horse I really liked in the opening leg.

Needless to say, I was thrilled when Three Timer looked like she’d been shot from a cannon down the lane and won by eight widening lengths. In fact, I only had one question after the race: Why didn’t I bet the pick-4?